Another Day in the Country
Canning tomatoes with mom
© Another Day in the Country
It’s that time of year, and I am fighting for the survival of my small garden and battling the grasshoppers for dominance in the yard.
The heat last week was unbearably hard on everything. I felt for farmers watching their corn dry up on the stock. It seemed as if overnight the fields turned from green and thriving to done.
Cucumbers are always the sensitive plants in a garden. They have an insatiable thirst. Bombarded by this heat, they were french-fried in no time. The few cukes that made appearances on vines tended toward bitterness at their predicament.
Pole beans that lazily avoided putting on fruit despite plenty of blossoms, pretty much gave up the ghost. And when the hoppers, scavengers that they are, found out, they descended on the vines and stripped them clean.
The afternoon sun, when the heat soars up over 100, is the hardest on everything.
I’m thankful for what shade trees provide but I’d purposely put my garden in an area with optimum sunshine and now I find myself hanging sheets along bean and tomato cages to give them some shade. It looks in my backyard as if I’m perpetually doing laundry.
Grasshoppers have stripped the grass at the side of the field that adjoins my yard. I’m using bug dust with abandon to keep them at bay.
When I show up to give tomatoes water, grasshoppers fly out like fireworks sprays on the Fourth of July, just not as breathtaking.
I’m angry at them. Couldn’t we have a little reprieve from their multiplication each year?
I thought that ducks might help, but I’ve seen the ducks snapping at those elusive bugs. Rarely are they fast enough to land one in their mouth.
I know that my young flock of chickens would love to have a go at these hopping pests but I don’t dare let them out again as long as there’s a fox in town and they insist on going into the fox’s territory the minute I open the door of their pen. So they remain cooped up.
The tomatoes are doing splendidly under the circumstances. I got a different breed of tomato this year, and what an abundant harvest they are promising.
Celebrity, I think they’re called. The vines are loaded, starting down near the ground to the tippy top, with huge clusters of fruit. It’s almost unnatural.
I go out to water, sometimes twice a day in this heat, and come back with the bottom of my T-shirt sagging like a bushel basket under the weight of all the tomatoes I’ve gathered.
There are tomatoes ripening all over my house — on the dryer and deck in the laundry area, on the table where I eat, on the kitchen deck in a basket, on cookie sheets on the floor in my bedroom, and some still on the side porch, while I’m wondering where to put them all.
My company has gone back to California to get ready for school. It’s funny how we tend to call guests “company,” even if they are family members.
My grandson and his mother are in the finest sense good company, and their visit was intense, busy, exciting, lovely, poignant, and sometimes hard work.
With a teenage boy in the house, I’d barely get one meal cleaned up before it was time for the next.
This reminds me of my mother. I used to wish she’d sit down with us, stop working, and relax a while.
I followed my own wishes as a relaxed and fun-loving mother, putting unnecessary tasks on hold. We played games endlessly, to Dagfinnr’s delight.
Today, I’ve started canning some of those over-ripe tomatoes.
My mother stands at my elbow, it seems, making suggestions as I start the water boiling to scald the skins off the fruit.
Mom always was a big fan of canning whole tomatoes. For her, a quart jar of bright red, whole tomatoes, chilled, served in one of her blue-and-white china dishes and sprinkled with sugar was the finest of desserts.
Everyone in my immediate family thinks I’m crazy to put sugar on sliced tomatoes, but I love it. They’d really turn up their noses at the idea of eating canned tomatoes for salad or dessert, but Mom enjoyed them more than chocolate cake.
For some reason, she always was pleased to be able to leave tomatoes whole. To make them into sauce was a failure on her part.
She loved arranging tomatoes in a jar, and sometimes she’d “cheat” and buy store-bought tomato juice to put over them instead of using water.
The arranged jars of bright red tomatoes on her pantry shelf were beautiful to behold and a pleasure to eat come winter.
“Oh, you’re going to cut up those beautiful tomatoes,” the ghost of my mother remonstrates.
“But that’s how I use them — that and sauce. No use arranging them whole just to put them in the whizzer for whatever I’m cooking,” I defend my position with a memory.
It’s easy enough to maintain the high ground with someone long gone, on another day in the country.